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review 2019-01-16 02:06
WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF THE INCREDIBLE JOSEPHINE BAKER
Josephine Baker's Last Dance - Sherry Jones

Josephine Baker is someone I had known about since my elementary school days in the mid-1970s, when I first saw her profile in a calendar celebrating what was then Black History Month. I was fascinated to learn that she had gone to Paris in 1925 and made herself into a superstar in France and across the world. 

"JOSEPHINE BAKER'S LAST DANCE" was given to me last month as a Christmas gift. The essence of the novel has as a centerpiece, what was Josephine Baker's last great stage performance in Paris in April 1975. The author uses it as a springboard to take the reader back to Josephine's early years in St. Louis, where she was born in poverty in 1906. I very much enjoyed seeing Josephine as she grew and matured. Hers was not an easy life. There is much in the novel that conveys the struggles and abuse that she endured. America was then an unwelcoming and at times, brutal and dispiriting place for its black citizens. Baker gets into vaudeville as a dancer in her mid-teens and eventually, the gateway to stardom opens and Josephine arrives in Paris with La Revue Nègre . 

The only part of the novel I found fault was its description of Josephine Baker's service in World War II as an intelligence agent and member of the French Resistance. The time sequences which covered the early war years seemed at times nebulous and compressed. If the reader had little or no knowledge of how the French defeat to Nazi Germany impacted the country in June 1940, he/she would be led to think that the resistance movement to the Germans developed overnight. That was not true at all. There was, initially disillusionment and fear when the Germans entered Paris - which had been declared an open city by the French government - on June 14, 1940 - and compelled the French to sign an armistice 8 days later. It would be several months to a year before an incipient resistance movement began to take shape in France as the Germans solidified their power and authority there. 

There was also a mention in the novel which indicated that Josephine Baker made the acquaintance of the courageous British spy Krystna Skarbek, a Pole (aka 'Christine Granville') during the early days of the German Occupation. That is simply untrue. (I read a book in 2015 about Krystyna Skabek's wartime service --- 'Christine: SOE Agent & Churchill's Favourite Spy'. Krystyna Shabek did not get to France until the summer of 1944. Earlier, she had been engaged in espionage work since late 1939 in German-occupied Poland, the Balkans, and Egypt.) That is why I am taking away 1 star and giving "JOSEPHINE BAKER'S LAST DANCE" 3 stars.  Outside of that glaring, historical inaccuracy, it is a very good novel which brought out the real Josephine Baker in so many interesting ways.

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review 2018-09-27 03:17
ONE MAN'S STRUGGLE AGAINST A NATION SET ON OPPRESSING & DEBASING HIM
Black Boy - Richard Wright,Edward P. Jones

TODAY (September 26th, 2018) I finished re-reading "BLACK BOY." I first read it when I was in high school many, many years ago. At the time I read it, the book left a big impression on me. Yet, as time went on, I gave Richard Wright's autobiography little more than a second thought. So, when one of the Goodreads clubs to which I belonged chose "BLACK BOY" as the Book of the Month, I was eager to see what I might find or discover from re-reading it. From the moment I plunged into the first paragraph, I felt like I was reading it for the first time, with fresh eyes.

Wright brought to me, as a reader, his fears, hopes, and dreams that he had while growing up in the South - be it in Mississippi (where he was born), Arkansas, and Tennessee. He lived with hunger, fears of running afoul of white Southerners (which required that he'd learn fast how to act, think, and be among them -- otherwise, he could end up dead, as had happened with one of his uncles who had a thriving business that whites resented him for having), and his own desire to lead a freer, independent existence within the larger society. That is, the U.S. as he knew it to be during the 1910s and 1920s.

After some effort and a lot of determination, Wright eventually was able to save enough money to go live in the North, where one of his aunts lived. Upon arriving there, in his own words: "Chicago seemed an unreal city whose mythical houses were built of slabs of black coal wreathed in palls of gray smoke, houses whose foundations were sinking slowly into the dank prairie. Flashes of steam showed intermittently on the wide horizon, ... The din of the city entered my consciousness, entered to remain for years to come. The year was 1927." 

Wright would go on to work a variety of odd jobs (including work with the post office) and join the Communist Party in the early 1930s, which gave him invaluable lessons in human psychology that he would later carry over into his writing. 

This is a book that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone seeking to understand the effects of man's inhumanity to man, as well as the redemptive power of the spirit that refuses to submit to degradation and oppression imposed upon it, seeking a newer world and better life.

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text 2016-03-22 02:38
Text Annotation
Junebug - Alice Mead

Citation: Mead, A. (2009). Junebug. Square Fish.

 

Annotation:

"Some of the stuff that goes on in the Auburn Street Projects, I'm never gonna do. These projects are like some kind of never-never land, like they never got put on a regular map. Nobody comes around here on purpose. It's as if we all got lost, right in the middle of the city."

Reeve McClain, Jr.--Junebug--has decided to skip his birthday. Since ten is the age when boys in the projects are forced to join gangs or are ensnared by drug dealers, Junebug would rather remain nine. Still, he does have a birthday wish: to someday become a ship's captain and sail away. So Junebug comes up with a plan to launch a flotilla, fifty glass bottles containing notes with his wish, in the hope that someone somewhere will help to make his dream come true.

 

Author's Information: I had an unusually healthy childhood-sailing across the ocean on a steamship at age 7, visiting England,Scotland, and Norway, and playing endlessly with my dollhouse, which perhaps eventually lead to writing many books for children. Because I live in a refugee resettlement city Portland, ME, I wrote about displaced kids from war areas, Sudan, Kurdistan, and Kosovo. I was also an art teacher. The book, Soldier Mom, now 20 years old, was written during the first Gulf War, when we suddenly used a "reserve" army instead of an enlisted one. I had two active sons, dogs, rabbit, chameleon, hamster and later assisted 40 Kosova high school students. I loved gardening, painting, reading. But suddenly began to hurt everywhere, falling, weak. Nothing helped.I had to leave my job as an art teacher but was still able to write.
Nearly twenty years (plus a bout with severe cancer) into feeling weak, I now know I have Myasthenia Gravis, a neuromuscular disease that affects your eyes, breathing, endurance and speech.
I still write, paint, sing, practice my standup comedy, and take photographs. Really nothing inside me has changed at all. I fight to improve, laugh over the silliness of ordinary life, and am curious about all sorts of things.

 

Rewards: None

Reading Level: Grades 3-5

Genre: Fiction

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text 2016-03-22 02:33
Text Annotation
Junebug in Trouble - Alice Mead

Citation: Mead, A. (2002). Junebug in trouble. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

Annotation: It's Labor Day weekend, and Junebug hasn't seen his friend Robert since May, when Junebug's family moved from their housing project. Now, Mama, Tasha, Harriet, and Junebug are off to the beach for a reunion. Robert is there, but so is Trevor, another boy from the housing project who is a gang member with a gun. With Junebug gone, Trevor easily befriended Robert and is luring him to join the gang. Can Junebug stop Robert?

 

Author's Information: I had an unusually healthy childhood-sailing across the ocean on a steamship at age 7, visiting England,Scotland, and Norway, and playing endlessly with my dollhouse, which perhaps eventually lead to writing many books for children. Because I live in a refugee resettlement city Portland, ME, I wrote about displaced kids from war areas, Sudan, Kurdistan, and Kosovo. I was also an art teacher. The book, Soldier Mom, now 20 years old, was written during the first Gulf War, when we suddenly used a "reserve" army instead of an enlisted one. I had two active sons, dogs, rabbit, chameleon, hamster and later assisted 40 Kosova high school students. I loved gardening, painting, reading. But suddenly began to hurt everywhere, falling, weak. Nothing helped.I had to leave my job as an art teacher but was still able to write.
Nearly twenty years (plus a bout with severe cancer) into feeling weak, I now know I have Myasthenia Gravis, a neuromuscular disease that affects your eyes, breathing, endurance and speech.
I still write, paint, sing, practice my standup comedy, and take photographs. Really nothing inside me has changed at all. I fight to improve, laugh over the silliness of ordinary life, and am curious about all sorts of things.

 

Rewards: None

Reading Level: Grades 4-7

Genre: Fiction

 

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text 2016-03-22 02:18
Text Annotation
Leon's Story - Leon Walter Tillage,Susan L. Roth

Citation: Jones, J. (1909). Leo's story. London: Religious Tract Society.

 

Annotation: Leon Tillage grew up the son of a sharecropper in a small town in North Carolina. Told in vignettes, this is his story about walking four miles to the school for black children, and watching a school bus full of white children go past. It's about his being forced to sit in the balcony at the movie theater, hiding all night when the Klansmen came riding, and worse. Much worse.


But it is also the story of a strong family and the love that bound them together. And, finally, it's about working to change an oppressive existence by joining the civil rights movement. Edited from recorded interviews conducted by Susan L. Roth, Leon's story will stay with readers long after they have finished his powerful account.

 

Author's Information: Leon Walter Tillage lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where he has worked for thirty years as a custodian at The Park School.
Susan L. Roth's many picture books include "Ishi's Tale of Lizard," which was an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists. She lives in Great Neck, New York. 

 

Reward: winner of the 1998 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Nonfiction.

Reading Level: Grades 3-5

Genre: Autobiography Nonfiction

 

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